5 Signs that Broadway is becoming more like Vegas.

I’ve been in New York for just shy of two decades now, and to say things have changed in the theater district is as obvious as saying Wicked is a big hit.

The transformation of Times Square into a Vegas Strip-like scene seems to have had an effect on what’s happening inside our theaters as well.

Here are 5 things I’ve noticed that indicate we’re getting Vegas-ized:

1.  WHO IS THE HEADLINER?

We’re becoming increasingly dependent on the names in our shows, just like the casinos have depended on Wayne Newton and friends for years.  In some cases (A Steady Rain, anyone?), Shakespeare has gotten a rewrite because now, “the star’s the thing.”

2.  A TRIBUTE TO TRIBUTES.

When Love Never Dies canceled its Fall NYC opening, the show that took its place wasn’t a limited run play revival.  Instead it was Rain, a Beatles tribute show that has been touring the nation.  If it succeeds, expect more of this type of entertainment to be coming down the long and winding road.

3.  BROKERS ARE NOT GOING BROKE.

In Vegas, the Brokers mean business.  If you don’t have them on your side, you’re gonna get Bugsy Siegeled in no time.  In NYC, they don’t wield that much power . . . yet.  But as they continue to out-spend us on advertising, and continue to organize, we may find ourselves not wanting to sit with our backs to the door, if you know what I mean.  My suggestion?  We all have a sit-down.

4.  PARDON ME, I DON’T SPEAK AMERICAN.

International audiences have been slowly increasing here in NYC, with the Broadway League reporting that 21% of our audience was from around the globe in 2008-2009.  21%!  That means more than 1 in 5 people that see a show many not speak English as their first language!  You’d have to be high on glue to not think that stat has an effect on what runs.  If it increases, expect more and more non-verbal entertainment or spectacular events to take over our boards, like, oh, I don’t know, Spider-Man?

5.  ADVANCE = DAY OF.

It used to be that our tourist audiences picked up a paper before they came into town and bought their tickets in advance.  When my Mom bought my fam Phantom tickets we waited EIGHT months. And we sat in the 2nd row from the back. (Side note: when I went to see it a second time, I bought tickets from a broker because I wanted a great seat.)  Our audiences are becoming more like Vegas audiences, and waiting until they get here to decide, causing most shows to have more availability, requiring more discounting, etc.  So much of our marketing dollars now have to be spent on converting the customer when they get here, instead of before.

Will Broadway become the U.S’s second Strip?  I doubt it.  Great plays and great musicals will always have a place here, whereas I can’t imagine that The Pitmen Painters or Next to Normal will ever play The Mirage.

But we do have more in common with Vegas than ever before.

And you can place a big bet that this trend concerns me.

Comments
  • Emily Acosta says:

    I find Reason #3 totally fascinating!! I never considered the potential impact non-English speaking audiences. Although I understand that these audiences might prefer spectacle to substance, I don’t think spectacle necessarily translates to non-verbal entertainment or over-the-top Vegas-like theatrical events. Vegas is gaudy, glittery, and BIG. I think visitors expect and demand something a little different from their New York experience. I’m thinking of the Cirque du Soleil Banana Schpeel failure, for example… I think that’s a great parallel because the brand itself is a huge star in Vegas. People know that Cirque du Soleil = quality, spectacular entertainment, but it doesn’t necessarily = New York entertainment. In the musical Chicago, for example, the spectacle is in the sexy Fosse dancers. It isn’t over the top, but it’s still fun to watch, and still a hit! Or American Idiot or the Jersey Boys – the spectacle is in the rock concert-like nature of the shows, but neither is like blindingly in your face crazy-crazy. We’ll just have to see what Spider Man will be – however, with that creative team and insane budget, while I’m sure it’ll be spectacular, I’m not convinced it will be Vegas-glitter-I-don’t-want-to-think-too-much-because-I-came-here-to-gamble-and-get-drunk-spectacular. Plus, while people do want to see those big names (Wayne Newton, Nathan Lane), I think the cases where the show is the star (like with the millions of Cirque du Soleils or with shows like Chicago, American Idiot, Jersey Boys, Wicked, West Side Story, etc), are still prevalent enough that the trend of big names does not necessarily guarantee success, or make commercial success any easier. People don’t always demand celebrities – they just want to be sure they’re going to like what they see, given their limited time visiting and the high up front expense. But you know… you’re right. Because Broadway and Vegas have inherently different cultures, and tourists thus have different expectations, Broadway won’t become the next Vegas Strip. But the trends you outline are certainly concerning in an industry where margins are increasingly being squeezed and demands for that over-the-top brand of spectacle might be on the rise.

  • Nick Leshi says:

    Maybe Vegas is becoming more like Broadway. 🙂

  • janis says:

    I had this very discussion with friends this weekend. I once loved Broadway, but was completely disillusioned by my last visit. Broadway seems to be losing its wonder. There seemed to be a ‘dumbing down’ of the shows, a tendency to emphasize marketing over content and spectacle over quality.
    Art appears to have been sacrificed to ticket sales and like Vegas, movies, and TV the shows seem to be increasing prices at the same time they are cheapening their product.
    By focusing on revivals, Broadway is pursuing the McDonalds style of marketing familiarity over quality. Audiences can attend a revival in their home theaters and are deprived of the opportunity of attending the new and wonderful show that Broadway does best.
    It is time Broadway returns to what it does best, ART.
    It is time to remember the cost of a project does not make it art nor does the bottom line.
    Do some great new shows to enrich the sprit as only an experience of art can and Broadway can forget the economy, forget the marketing, and success will follow.

  • I had to comment on the change in advance sales. Now, I’ve never been one to order tickets 9 months in advance, either at home or for Broadway. However, when coming to Broadway, I usually do order some tickets in advance, usually the big shows.
    I didn’t on my last trip in early September. In fact, I didn’t order one ticket before I left home, and yet I almost always got a seat in the first 10 rows. It’s not that I didn’t TRY to order tickets before I left, but when you order two weeks before one of the slowest tourist times, and you’re getting offers for Row M, you know something’s up.
    After some trial and error, I learned that the BEST time to get the best seats was 2 hours before curtain. That appears to be when producers are willing to open up the premium tickets for average folks, and if one show didn’t have a good seat . . . there was plenty of others to pick from. I had seats in Row G, Row D, Row H, Row J . . . The shows I ordered more than 2 hours in advance, I almost always got Row M and Row Q. Maybe producers are creating their own monsters.

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